When a research study is done well, on just the right area of focus, and is able to generate a high level, long-lasting impact, the rewards don’t just fall to the scholar in charge of the project. The entire field, society, or demographic gets the benefit of the job well done, but exactly what the rewards entail for the scholar and society, and how to determine those benefits and the impact itself, are controversial topics in higher education.
The problem is that impact and value are both qualitative measures, but they’re used to determine quantitative factors like funding and bonuses. Universities can claim a high impact rating and then receive massive financial and societal benefits, but proving those ratings was always subjective. This controversial problem resulted in the establishment of the Research Evaluation Framework, or REF, in 2014. This framework was created with the intent to put a quantitative number on universities through factors such as the case studies they put out, based on key elements that are universally accepted as impact-driving forces.
Challenges in Weighing a Reputation and Impact
One of the formats in which reputation and value are weighed is through the use of case studies to determine the overall research impact. Case studies hold thousands of measures in which impact can be made, and so many possible avenues makes it difficult for any single metric or formula to be used as a way to calculate impact. Case studies by nature are qualitative, divulging a manifold number of connections that could be made between the research and society. Turning this vast assortment of connections into a mathematical number is difficult.
The REF formula is adjusted annually as evidence supporting changes is weighed and approved or denied as unfounded. But with case studies, the supporting documents to show stability in the findings of using them to gauge impact have been inconsistent on a regular basis. This fact argues for the premise that case studies can be used as a resource for analysis during the research experiment itself, but using them as a tool for assessment of the quality of the outcome and the scholar’s reputation may not be a measure that is ready for inclusion in the overall REF formula until it is analyzed and adjusted further.
Metrics the REF Establishes for Universities
While case studies are still in flux as to the feasibility of including them in the measurement of a university’s impact, there are some metrics that are currently established as standard guidelines, such as:
● The number of people who were actively engaged in a research project in various ways
● How many times the study was mentioned in non-academic resources and media venues, including social media platforms
● The economic impact of the research, including jobs created or bolstered because of the findings
● The actual value, in the form of financial figures, that was assessed because of the long-term impact of the research, such as royalties, cost savings, and return on investments
● When applicable, the research value is determined in part by the changes in the field of study, such as lower emissions, improved technology, increased awareness in the form of actionable steps towards bettering education, and other societal impacts that drove a change to be made
The REF formula takes all of these effects into consideration, combines them currently with case study valuations, and determines a quantitative number to apply to a university and a scholar’s reputation based on the output of these factors.
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